5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Empire State Building

There aren’t many buildings more famous than the Empire State Building. It’s been featured in many movies over the years; it’s one of the most photographed buildings on social media, and 110 million people have visited its observation deck. But there’s plenty of stories that many individuals don’t know about this building. Here are 5 stories:

1. Built in only 13 months

The late ’20s saw a building boom in Manhattan. By 1929 an intense rivalry for who could build the tallest skyscraper was underway.  Two other buildings — 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building — each held the title of world’s tallest for less than a year. The Empire State Building would soon dwarf all of them.

The owners and city leaders wanted it built fast as they could, to save costs, and show (despite the great depression) things were getting done.  The architect, William F Lamb, produced the drawings in just two weeks. Lamb borrowed earlier designs from the Carew Tower in Cincinnati & The Reynold Building in Winston-Salem. The building was built in just 13 months, using a team of 3,400 workers.  An incredible pace of two floors a week.

2. Airport for transatlantic blimps

Modern Mechanix - August 1930
Modern Mechanix – August 1930 – Source: http://blog.modernmechanix.com/building-provides-mooring-masts-for-zeps

The race to build the world’s tallest motivated the builders to build something far taller than the Chrysler Tower. So a 61-meter (200-foot) crown was added to the building. It was promoted as a mooring mast for transatlantic flights. Several blimps tried docking, but high winds prevented it from happening safely. The Hindenburg disaster in 1936 put a stop to commercial air travel by blimps.  The following year a TV antenna was installed, further preventing any from landing.

3. A B-25 bomber crash leads to the longest survived elevator fall

In the summer of 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying in a thick fog crashed into the 79/80th floors. The plane tore a massive hole and rained debris on the streets and buildings below. The plane engine passed right through the building and landed on a roof a block away. Fourteen people were killed, including three on the plane and 11 in the building.

4. Longest Plunge in an Elevator

Amazingly, the elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories when the elevator cables gave way. This still stands as the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest survived elevator fall.

B-25 Bomber Hits 78th Floor of the Empire State Building (Photo by Ernie Sisto/New York Times)
B-25 Bomber Hits 78th Floor of the Empire State Building (Photo by Ernie Sisto/New York Times)

5. The Most Beautiful Suicide

Over 30 people have committed suicide by jumping from the building. In 1947, five people tried in a three-week span. Most famous of these was 23-year-old Evelyn McHale. She jumped from the 86th-floor observation deck, clearing the setbacks and landing on a limousine parked on the street. Life Magazine ran a photo of Evelyn’s lifeless body. Her image so composed against the crumpled metal of the car has become known as “The Most Beautiful Suicide” and ranks as one of the most famous photos of the 20th century. Andy Warhol immortalized it in a work of art from 1962. After McHale’s death, a fence was erected to stop people from jumping.

The Beautiful Suicide
The body of 23-year-old Evelyn McHale rests atop a crumpled limousine minutes after she jumped to her death from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947.

The Empire State Building has stood on its site now for 86 years towering over its neighbors on the 34th street.  It’s a throwback to an age when America was reaching for the skies. Today it is still American architects that are designing the world’s tallest buildings. In places like India, China, and Saudi Arabia, they’re plans for skyscrapers over 914 meters (3,000 feet) tall. They all owe a debt of inspiration to the Empire State Building here in New York.